May 22, 1957- A B-36 aircraft (52-2816) of the 334th Bombardment Squadron, 95th Bombardment Wing, was transporting a Mark 17 ten-megaton hydrogen bomb from Biggs AFB, Texas to Kirkland AFB, New Mexico. As the aircraft was on approach to Kirkland and over Albuquerque, New Mexico, the thermonuclear device, weighing 42,000 pounds, dropped from the bomber just 4 miles south of Albuquerque.
Accounts of what caused the incident vary, but one version suggests that a crewmember in the bomb bay was jolted by sudden turbulence. He grabbed hold of the manual bomb release lever to steady himself, causing the weapon to crash through the closed bomb bay doors and plummet to earth.
Richard ″Dick″ Meyer, 62, a retired lieutenant colonel, told the El Paso (Texas) Times that a crewman between the wings and the tail of the aircraft saw what had happened.
″Simultaneously, he called, ‘Bombs away,’ and the plane lurched upward about 1,000 feet when it lost so much weight at once,″ Meyer said.
″And someone yelled, ‘Oh, SHIT.’ It might have been me,″ Meyer said.
The weapon plummeted 1700 feet to earth and exploded. The physics package which made the bomb nuclear was not installed for obvious safety reasons. However, the conventional explosives used to support the detonation of the package did explode. A crater 25 feet in diameter was formed and a cow was killed. Radioactive material remaining in the weapon showered down for a mile around the explosion. The Air Force reimbursed the farmer for his cow and the city of Albuquerque for the land and roads destroyed when the Air Force removed the contaminated soil.
Sixteen years after he sacrificed himself defending his team on a 10,000-foot peak known as Takur Ghar in Afghanistan, Air Force Technical Sgt. John Chapman has received the Medal of Honor. Valerie Nessel, the spouse of Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, received the posthumous award the Medal of Honor from President Donald J. Trump during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., Aug. 22, 2018.
CITATION TO ACCOMPANY THE AWARD OF THE MEDAL OF HONOR TO TECHNICAL SERGEANT JOHN A. CHAPMAN
Technical Sergeant John A. Chapman distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as an Air Force Special Tactics Combat Controller, attached to a Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Team conducting reconnaissance operations in Takur Ghar, Afghanistan, on March 4, 2002. During insertion, the team’s helicopter was ambushed causing a teammate to fall into an entrenched group of enemy combatants below. Sergeant Chapman and the team voluntarily reinserted onto the snow-capped mountain, into the heart of a known enemy stronghold to rescue one of their own. Without regard for his own safety, Sergeant Chapman immediately engaged, moving in the direction of the closest enemy position despite coming under heavy fire from multiple directions. He fearlessly charged an enemy bunker, up a steep incline in thigh-deep snow and into hostile fire, directly engaging the enemy. Upon reaching the bunker, Sergeant Chapman assaulted and cleared the position, killing all enemy occupants. With complete disregard for his own life, Sergeant Chapman deliberately moved from cover only 12 meters from the enemy, and exposed himself once again to attack a second bunker, from which an emplaced machine gun was firing on his team. During this assault from an exposed position directly in the line of intense fire, Sergeant Chapman was struck and injured by enemy fire. Despite severe, mortal wounds, he continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy personnel before making the ultimate sacrifice. By his heroic actions and extraordinary valor, sacrificing his life for the lives of his teammates, Technical Sergeant Chapman upheld the highest traditions of military service and reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
The Battle for Roberts Ridge
On May 4, 2002, the SEAL team’s task was to establish an outpost at the top of Takur Ghar, a mountain in southeast Afghanistan.
Due to delays, the helicopter carrying the team arrived to find al-Qaida forces waiting for them and took heavy fire.
During the assault, the Chinook took rocket-propelled grenade fire and Roberts was ejected. The helicopter crash-landed about four miles away.
Chapman soon began calling in airstrikes from AC-130 gunships circling overhead.
According to his Air Force Cross citation, Chapman “then directed the gunship to begin the search for the missing team member. He requested, coordinated, and controlled the helicopter that extracted the stranded team and aircrew members.”
Chapman, who was in the helicopter that crash-landed, eventually returned on another Chinook with five SEALs to try to rescue Roberts on the hillside, which would become known as “Roberts Ridge.”
Tsgt John Chapman would engage and kill two enemy personnel and exchange fire with multiple fighters all around his position.
It was believed that Chapman died then on the mountainside. Drone footage later revealed he lived at least another hour.
Along with Chapman and Roberts, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, Army Sgt. Bradley Crose, Army Sgt. Phillip Svitak, Army Spc. Marc Anderson and Army Cpl. Matthew Commons also died during the mission.
Senior Chief Britt K. Slabinski, leader of the SEAL team that day has had his Silver Star upgraded to the Medal of Honor.